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Title: Foraminifera  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points, Xenophyophore, Eocene, Eukaryote, Amoeboids
Collection: Amoeboids, Cambrian First Appearances, Foraminifera, Fossil Taxa Described in 1826, Rhizaria
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Temporal range: Cambrian–Recent
Live Ammonia tepida (Rotaliida)
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
(unranked): SAR
(unranked): Rhizaria
Phylum: Retaria
Subphylum: Foraminifera

incertae sedis

Foraminifera (, Latin meaning hole bearers, informally called "forams") are members of a phylum or class of amoeboid protists characterized by streaming granular ectoplasm that among other things is used for catching food, and commonly by an external shell or "test" made of various materials and constructed in diverse forms. All but perhaps a very few are aquatic and most are marine, the majority of which live on or within the seafloor sediment (i.e., are benthic) while a smaller variety are floaters in the water column at various depths (i.e., are planktonic). A few are known from freshwater or brackish conditions and some soil species have been identified through molecular analysis of small subunit ribosomal DNA.[1][2]

Foraminifera typically produce a test, or shell, which can have either one or multiple chambers, some becoming quite elaborate in structure.[3] These shells are commonly made of calcium carbonate (CaCO
) or agglutinated sediment particles. Over 10,000 species are recognized, both living (8,708) and fossil (1,837).[4] They are usually less than 1 mm in size, but some are much larger, the largest species reaching up to 20 cm.[5]


  • Classification-taxonomy 1
  • Living foraminifera 2
  • Biology 3
  • Tests 4
  • Deep-sea species 5
  • Evolutionary significance 6
  • Uses of foraminifera 7
  • Gallery 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The taxonomic position of Foraminifera has varied since their recognition as protozoa (protists) by Schultze in 1854,[6] there referred to as an order, Foraminiferida. Loeblich and Tappan (1992) re-ranked Foraminifera as a class[7] as it is now commonly regarded.

Foraminifera have typically been included in the Protozoa,[8][9][10] or in the similar Protoctista or Protist kingdom.[11][12] There is compelling evidence, based primarily on molecular phylogenetics, for their belonging to a major group within the Protozoa known as the Rhizaria.[8] Prior to the recognition of evolutionary relationships among the members of the Rhizaria, Foraminifera were generally grouped with other Amoeboids as phylum Rhizopodea (or Sarcodina) in the class Granuloreticulosa.

Rhizaria is problematic as it is often called a "supergroup", rather than using an established taxonomic rank such as phylum. Cavalier-Smith defines Rhizaria as an infrakingdom within the Kingdom Protozoa.[8]

Some taxonomies put Foraminifera in a phylum of their own, putting them on par with the amoeboid Sarcodina in which they had been placed.

Although as yet unsupported by morphological correlates, molecular data strongly suggest that Foraminifera are closely related to the Cercozoa and Radiolaria, both of which also include amoeboids with complex shells; these three groups make up the Rhizaria.[9] However, the exact relationships of the forams to the other groups and to one another are still not entirely clear.

Living foraminifera

Modern foraminifera are primarily marine organisms but living individuals have been found in brackish, freshwater [13] and even terrestrial habitats.[2] The majority of the species are benthic, and a further 40 morphospecies are planktonic.[14] This count may however represent only a fraction of actual diversity, since many genetically discrepant species may be morphologically indistinguishable.[15]

A number of forams have unicellular algae as endosymbionts, from diverse lineages such as the green algae, red algae, golden algae, diatoms, and dinoflagellates.[14] Some forams are kleptoplastic, retaining chloroplasts from ingested algae to conduct photosynthesis.[16]


The foraminiferal cell is divided into granular endoplasm and transparent ectoplasm from which a pseudopodial net may emerge through a single opening or through many perforations in the test. Individual pseudopods characteristically have small granules streaming in both directions.[13] The pseudopods are used for locomotion, anchoring, and in capturing food, which consists of small organisms such as diatoms or bacteria.[14]

The foraminiferal life-cycle involves an alternation between haploid and diploid generations, although they are mostly similar in form.[6][17] The haploid or gamont initially has a single nucleus, and divides to produce numerous gametes, which typically have two flagella. The diploid or schizont is multinucleate, and after meiosis fragments to produce new gamonts. Multiple rounds of asexual reproduction between sexual generations is not uncommon in benthic forms.[13]

Abundance of certain Foraminifera is sometimes used by researchers as an indicator of the completeness of vertical mixing in certain seas such as the Celtic Sea.


Foraminiferan tests (ventral view)
Fossil nummulitid foraminiferans showing microspheric and megalospheric individuals; Eocene of the United Arab Emirates; scale in mm.
The miliolid foraminiferan Quinqueloculina from the Belgian part of the North Sea.
Thin section of a peneroplid foraminiferan from Holocene lagoonal sediment in Rice Bay, San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Scale bar 100 micrometres.
Ammonia beccarii, a benthic foram from the North Sea.
Foraminifera Baculogypsina sphaerulata of Hatoma Island, Japan. Field width = 5.22 mm.

The form and composition of the [23]

Evolutionary significance

Dying planktonic Foraminifera continuously rain down on the sea floor in vast numbers, their mineralized tests preserved as fossils in the accumulating sediment. Beginning in the 1960s, and largely under the auspices of the Deep Sea Drilling, Ocean Drilling, and International Ocean Drilling Programmes, as well as for the purposes of oil exploration, advanced deep-sea drilling techniques have been bringing up sediment cores bearing Foraminifera fossils.[24] The effectively unlimited supply of these fossil tests and the relatively high-precision age-control models available for cores has produced an exceptionally high-quality planktonic Foraminifera fossil record dating back to the mid-Jurassic, and presents an unparalleled record for scientists testing and documenting the evolutionary process.[24] The exceptional quality of the fossil record has allowed an impressively detailed picture of species inter-relationships to be developed on the basis of fossils, in many cases subsequently validated independently through molecular genetic studies on extant specimens[25] Larger benthic Foraminifera with complex shell structure react in a highly specific manner to the different benthic environments and, therefore, the composition of the assemblages and the distribution patterns of particular species reflect simultaneously bottom types and the light gradient. In the course of Earth history, larger Foraminifera are replaced frequently. In particular, associations of Foraminifera characterizing particular shallow water facies types are dying out and are replaced after a certain time interval by new associations with the same structure of shell morphology, emerging from a new evolutionary process of adaptation. These evolutionary processes make the larger Foraminifera useful as index fossils for the Permian, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic.

Uses of foraminifera

Because of their diversity, abundance, and complex morphology, fossil foraminiferal assemblages are useful for biostratigraphy, and can accurately give relative dates to sedimentary rocks. The oil industry relies heavily on microfossils such as forams to find potential hydrocarbon deposits.[26]

Calcareous fossil Foraminifera are formed from elements found in the ancient seas they lived in. Thus they are very useful in paleoclimatology and paleoceanography. They can be used to reconstruct past climate by examining the stable isotope ratios and trace element content of the shells (tests). Global temperature and ice volume can be revealed by the isotopes of oxygen, and the history of the carbon cycle and oceanic productivity by examining the stable isotope ratios of carbon;[27] see δ18O and δ13C. The concentration of trace elements, like magnesium (Mg),[28] lithium (Li)[29] and boron (B),[30] also hold a wealth of information about global temperature cycles, continental weathering and the role of the ocean in the global carbon cycle. Geographic patterns seen in the fossil records of planktonic forams are also used to reconstruct ancient ocean currents. Because certain types of Foraminifera are found only in certain environments, they can be used to figure out the kind of environment under which ancient marine sediments were deposited.

For the same reasons they make useful biostratigraphic markers, living foraminiferal assemblages have been used as bioindicators in coastal environments, including indicators of coral reef health. Because calcium carbonate is susceptible to dissolution in acidic conditions, Foraminifera may be particularly affected by changing climate and ocean acidification.

Foraminifera have many uses in petroleum exploration and are used routinely to interpret the ages and paleoenvironments of sedimentary strata in oil wells.[31] Agglutinated fossil Foraminifera buried deeply in sedimentary basins can be used to estimate thermal maturity, which is a key factor for petroleum generation. The Foraminiferal Colouration Index [32] (FCI) is used to quantify colour changes and estimate burial temperature. FCI data is particularly useful in the early stages of petroleum generation (~100 °C).

Foraminifera can also be utilised in archaeology in the provenancing of some stone raw material types. Some stone types, such as limestone, are commonly found to contain fossilised Foraminifera. The types and concentrations of these fossils within a sample of stone can be used to match that sample to a source known to contain the same "fossil signature".



  1. ^ Giere, Olav (2009). Meiobenthology: the microscopic motile fauna of aquatic sediments (2nd ed.). Berlin: Springer.  
  2. ^ a b Lejzerowicz, Franck; Pawlowski, Jan; Fraissinet-Tachet, Laurence; Marmeisse, Roland (1 September 2010). "Molecular evidence for widespread occurrence of Foraminifera in soils". Environmental Microbiology 12 (9): 2518–26.  
  3. ^ Kennett, J.P.; Srinivasan, M.S. (1983). Neogene planktonic foraminifera: a phylogenetic atlas. Hutchinson Ross.  
  4. ^ "World Foraminifera Database". 
  5. ^ Marshall M (3 February 2010). "Zoologger: 'Living beach ball' is giant single cell".  
  6. ^ a b Loeblich Jr, A.R.; Tappan, H. (1964). "Foraminiferida". Part C, Protista 2. Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology. Geological Society of America. pp. C55–C786.  
  7. ^ Sen Gupta, Barun K. (2002). Modern Foraminifera. Springer. p. 16.  
  8. ^ a b c Cavalier-Smith, T (2004). "Only Six Kingdoms of Life" (PDF). 
  9. ^ a b Cavalier-Smith, T (2003). "Protist phylogeny and the high-level classification of Protozoa". European Journal of Protistology 34 (4): 338–348.  
  10. ^ Tolweb Cercozoa
  11. ^ European Register of Marine Species
  12. ^ eForams-taxonomy
  13. ^ a b c d Sen Gupta, Barun K. (1982). "Ecology of benthic Foraminifera". In Broadhead, T.W. Foraminifera: notes for a short course organized by M.A. Buzas and B.K. Sen Gupta. Studies in Geology 6. University of Tennessee, Dept. of Geological Sciences. pp. 37–50.  
  14. ^ a b c Hemleben, C.; Anderson, O.R.; Spindler, M. (1989). Modern Planktonic Foraminifera. Springer-Verlag.  
  15. ^ Kucera, M.; Darling, K.F. (April 2002). "Cryptic species of planktonic foraminifera: their effect on palaeoceanographic reconstructions". Philos Trans A Math Phys Eng Sci 360 (1793): 695–718.  
  16. ^ Bernhard, J. M.; Bowser, S.M. (1999). "Benthic Foraminifera of dysoxic sediments: chloroplast sequestration and functional morphology". Earth Science Reviews 46: 149–165.  
  17. ^ Moore, R.C.; Lalicker, A.G.; Fischer, C.G. (1952). "Ch 2 Foraminifera and Radiolaria". Invertebrate Fossils. McGraw-Hill.  
  18. ^ Lana, C (2001). "Cretaceous Carterina (Foraminifera)". Marine Micropaleontology 41: 97.  
  19. ^ Dartnell L (8 May 2008). "Sea creatures had a thing for bling". New Scientist (2655). 
  20. ^ Foraminifera: History of Study, University College London, retrieved 20 September 2007
  21. ^ Langer, M. R.; Silk, M. T. B.; Lipps, J. H. (1997). "Global ocean carbonate and carbon dioxide production: The role of reef Foraminifera". Journal of Foraminiferal Research 27 (4): 271–277.  
  22. ^ Adl, S. M.; Simpson, A. G. B.; Farmer, M. A.; Anderson; et al. (2005). "The new higher level classification of Eukaryotes with emphasis on the taxonomy of Protists". Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology 52 (5): 399–451.  
  23. ^ a b Gooday, A.J.; Todo, Y.; Uematsu, K.; Kitazato, H. (July 2008). "New organic-walled Foraminifera (Protista) from the ocean's deepest point, the Challenger Deep (western Pacific Ocean)". Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 153 (3): 399–423.  
  24. ^ a b
  25. ^ Journal bioinformatics and biology insights, Using the Multiple Analysis Approach to Reconstruct Phylogenetic Relationships among Planktonic Foraminifera from Highly Divergent and Length-polymorphic SSU rDNA Sequences
  26. ^ Boardman, R.S.; Cheetham, A.H.; Rowell, A.J. (1987). Fossil Invertebrates. Wiley.  
  27. ^ Zachos, J.C.; Pagani, M.; Sloan, L.; Thomas, E.; Billups, K. (2001). "Trends, Rhythms, and Aberrations in Global Climate, 65 Ma to Present". Science 292 (5517): 686–693.  
  28. ^ Branson, Oscar; Redfern, Simon A.T.; Tyliszczak, Tolek; Sadekov, Aleksey; Langer, Gerald; Kimoto, Katsunori; Elderfield, Henry (December 2013). "The coordination of Mg in foraminiferal calcite". Earth and Planetary Science Letters 383: 134–141.  
  29. ^ Misra, S.; Froelich, P. N. (26 January 2012). "Lithium Isotope History of Cenozoic Seawater: Changes in Silicate Weathering and Reverse Weathering". Science 335 (6070): 818–823.  
  30. ^ Hemming, N.G.; Hanson, G.N. (January 1992). "Boron isotopic composition and concentration in modern marine carbonates". Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 56 (1): 537–543.  
  31. ^ Jones, R.W. (1996). Micropalaeontology in petroleum exploration. Clarendon Press.  
  32. ^ McNeil, D.H.; Issler, D.R.; Snowdon, L.R. (1996). Colour Alteration, Thermal Maturity, and Burial Diagenesis in Fossil Foraminifers. Geological Survey of Canada Bulletin 499. Geological Survey of Canada.  

External links

General information
  • The University of California Museum of Paleontology website has an Introduction to the Foraminifera
  • Researchers at the University of South Florida developed a system using Foraminifera for monitoring coral reef environments
  • University College London's micropaleontology site has an overview of Foraminifera, including many high-quality SEMs
  • Illustrated glossary of terms used in foraminiferal research is the Lukas Hottinger's glossary published in the OA e-journal "Carnets de Géologie — Notebooks on Geology"
  • Information on Foraminifera Martin Langer's Micropaleontology Page
  • Benthic Foraminifera information from the 2005 Urbino Summer School of Paleoclimatology
Online flip-books
  • Illustrated glossary of terms used in foraminiferal research by Lukas Hottinger (alternative version of the one published in "Carnets de Géologie — Notebooks on Geology")
  • The star*sand project (part of micro*scope) is a cooperative database of information about Foraminifera
  • 3D models of forams, generated by X-ray tomography
  • CHRONOS has several Foraminifera resources, including a taxon search page and a micro-paleo section
  • eForams is a web site focused on Foraminifera and modeling of foraminiferal shells
  • Foraminifera Gallery Illustrated catalog of recent and fossil Foraminifera by genus and locality
  • "Foraminifera". NCBI Taxonomy Browser. 29178. 
Four species found in the Challenger Deep are unknown from any other place in the oceans, one of which is representative of an endemic genus unique to the region. They are

Foraminifera are found in the deepest parts of the ocean such as the [23]

Deep-sea species

Genetic studies have identified the naked amoeba "Reticulomyxa" and the peculiar xenophyophores as foraminiferans without tests. A few other amoeboids produce reticulose pseudopods, and were formerly classified with the forams as the Granuloreticulosa, but this is no longer considered a natural group, and most are now placed among the Cercozoa.[22]

Tests are known as fossils as far back as the Cambrian period,[19] and many marine sediments are composed primarily of them. For instance, the limestone that makes up the pyramids of Egypt is composed almost entirely of nummulitic benthic Foraminifera.[20] Production estimates indicate that reef Foraminifera annually generate approximately 43 million tons of calcium carbonate per year and thus play an essential role in the production of reef carbonates.[21]


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